Rafflesia (corpse flower)

Species profile

Name: rafflesia is a genus of parasitic plants that contains around 28 distinct species. Their flowers look and smell like rotting flesh, giving them the local name of ‘corpse flowers’. Confusingly, this name can can also refer to the titan arum (Amorphophallus titanum), although they are not related.

Appearance: rafflesia plants have no stems, leaves, or roots. To survive, they parasitise vines, spreading themselves inside the tissues of their hosts. The only part of the plants that can be seen outside of the hosts are their large, five-petalled flowers which only appear when they are ready to reproduce.

Size: the size of rafflesia flowers varies across species. In some, such as Rafflesia arnoldii, the flower may be over a metre in diameter and weigh up to 10 kg – making it the world’s largest flower. While smaller species such as Rafflesia baletei reach around 12 cm.

Diet: in a similar way to fungi, rafflesia plants grow thread-like strands within the tissues of their hosts. These strands extract nutrients and water from the host’s cells which feed the plant.

Did you know: the foul smell given off by rafflesia flowers attracts insects which transport pollen from male to female flowers. Most rafflesia species have separate male and female flowers, but a few are hermaphrodites! One of the most remarkable adaptations of rafflesia plants is their ability to exchange genes with their hosts. While this is common in bacteria it is much rarer in more complex organisms.

Location: they are found in primary rainforests in Southeast Asia, typically Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, and the Philippines.

Best places to see rafflesia

According to reports submitted to WildSide, the best places to see rafflesia are as follows:

Place Chance to see User rating No. reports
Pulau Tioman
very high
very good

Photo credit: Martin Sercombe under a Creative Commons license from Flickr

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